(Send your ancestor's name. country/port of departure, port of arrival, ship's name and immigration date to to be included in the database)


Years ago I taught genealogical classes and seminars and one of the first classes to fill up was my "They Came in Ships" -- Locating Passenger, Emigration, Immigration and Naturalization Records.  After all, the hardest research work you will do is making that jump to the other side of the pond and finding the name of your ancestor's town.  I was asked last week about locating these types of records and when I went to link them to the page in the Shawano site, I realized I never made a page for it.  I'm including some of the materials from my classes as well as links to GREAT SITES on the Internet that I have found useful.

If you have additional questions, comments or your favorite links, you can send them to me at

The first steps in locating the information is to try to establish a time frame of when your ancestor immigrated to the U.S. and from what country.  Your FIRST source will be family papers, family Bibles, and older family members memories -- keeping in mind that details and memories are not carved in stone but they can send you in the right direction.  After searching those records, your next step would be CENSUS WORK.  Now I know, they appear in censuses AFTER they arrived -- you need the information BEFORE they arrived, right? One of the questions on the censuses were PLACE OF BIRTH and later ones asked for YEAR OF IMMIGRATION and CITIZENSHIP STATUS.  As with ALL GENEALOGICAL RESEARCH, start with the last known event (present) and work backwards to get to the time frame you are researching.  So if they were here in 1930, start with that census and work backwards -- and keep in mind that the census information is as accurate as the person who gave it -- sometimes it was the actual person and the information would be relatively accurate.  But other times, it could be the 12 year old daughter who was home that day and answered the door or even the next door lady (who would save that tired census worker the long trip back when the family would be home) because she KNEW the family well.  These records were not compiled to be scrutinized as we use them -- they were a head count as required by the Federal Government and even though census takers were sworn in, they did the best they could do within reason.

1860 Census Questions:
Place of birth (state, territory or country)

1870 Census Questions:
Place of birth (state, territory or country)
Whether father is of foreign birth
Whether mother is of foreign birth
Whether male citizen of the US aged 21 years and up

1880 Census Questions:
Name of state, territory or country of birth
Father's birthplace
Mother's birthplace

1900 Census Questions:
Father's birthplace
Mother's birthplace
For an alien or naturalized citizen: year of immigration to the US; number of years in the US, whether still an alien, having applied for citizenship, or naturalized (A or AL - Alien; NA - Naturalized; NR - Not Reported; PA - First Papers Filed)

1910 Census Questions:
Birthplace, if foreign born, mother tongue
Birthplaces of parents
Year of immigration
Whether naturalized or alien for foreign born males 21 years old or older (A or AL - Alien; NA - Naturalized; NR - Not Reported; PA - First Papers Filed)
Whether able to speak English

1920 Census Questions:
Year of immigration
Whether naturalized or alien (A or AL - Alien; NA - Naturalized; NR - Not Reported; PA - First Papers Filed)
If naturalized, year of naturalization
Birthplace and mother tongue
Birthplaces and mother tongues of parents
Whether able to speak English

1930 Census Questions:
Race (W - White, Neg - Negro, Mex - Mexican, In - Indian, Ch - Chinese, Jp - Japanese; Fil - Filipino, Hin - Hindu, Kor - Korean, Other races are spelled out in full, For Indian: whether of full or mixed blood, and tribal affiliation
Birthplace of person and parents
If foreign born, language spoken in home before coming to the U.S.
Year of immigration
Whether naturalized (Na - Naturalized, Pa - First Papers, Al - Alien)
Whether speaks English

OK, enough said about the importance of censuses... Now onto the next clue -- citizenship status (Na - Naturalized, Pa - First Papers, Al - Alien) Naturalization, the process by which an alien (foreign-born resident) becomes a citizen of another country. Naturalization papers can be a valuable source of information regarding an immigrant's place of origin, his or her original name, former residence, and date of arrival in the new country. Beyond that, they represent an important time in the life of our ancestor.

Naturalization records are often overlooked by genealogists, however, because they can be difficult to locate and understand. To gain a better insight into these records, it is helpful to understand the three-step process involved in gaining U.S. citizenship:

  • Declarations of Intention - First Papers
    Prior to 1952, a two-step process was required before an immigrant could become a U.S. citizen. Filing a Declaration of Intention was the first step. Sometimes referred to as the "first papers," the Declaration of Intention could be filed anytime after the immigrant arrived. After 1862, those who were honorably discharged from the U.S. Army were excused from this first step in the naturalization process (added for the Navy & Marine Corps in 1894). In 1952, a Declaration of Intent was no longer required for anyone, although some immigrants filed them. While the content found on the declaration of intention varies dramatically by time period and location, pre-1906 declarations rarely contain much in the way of biographical information. Post-1906 declarations are more useful to genealogists, however, generally containing the following information: name, address, occupation, birthplace, nationality, country from which emigrated, birth date or age, personal description, date of intention, marital status, last foreign residence, port of entry, name of ship, date of entry, and date of document. They sometimes include a picture of the applicant. From 1929 to 1941, the declaration of intention also asked for the spouse's name, marriage date and place, and birth information, plus names, dates, and places of birth and residence of each child. A separate Certificate of Arrival giving details of arrival was usually required for arrivals after 1906.
  • Petition for Naturalization - Second or Final Papers
    Naturalization petitions were formal applications submitted to the court by individuals who had met the residency requirements (generally 5 years, though this varied by time period) and who had declared their intention to become citizens (filed first papers). As with the declarations of intention, the information they contain varies dramatically from one court to another. Most petitions created before 1906 offer little in terms of personal information. After 1906, petitions contain generally the same information as the Declaration of Intention, with additional detail on spouses and children.
  • Certificate of Naturalization
    Certificates were issued to new citizens upon completion of all citizenship requirements. As in the cases of declarations of intention and the petitions, the amount of information provided on the certificate may vary greatly from one year to another. In most cases, it contains little information other than the court, date, and name of new citizen. Beginning in 1929, naturalization certificates also included a photograph of the new citizen. They may contain other information, but the Declaration and Petition are usually the most helpful papers for genealogy researchers.

The US Naturalization Service was formed on September 27, 1906, thus they do not have any naturalization records dated before September 1906. To locate pre-1906 naturalization records, or any naturalization records filed with courts, start your research at NARA - National Archives.

If your ancestor became naturalized after September 26, 1906, first look for the record in the local (usually county) court since this court was close to the immigrant's place of residence. You can also check the National Archives regional facility that covers the immigrants place of residence.

Naturalization was slightly different for women than men.  Unless a woman was single or widowed, she had few reasons to naturalize prior to the twentieth century. Women, foreign-born or native, could not vote. Until the mid-nineteenth century, women typically did not hold property or appear as "persons" before the law. Under these circumstances, only widows and spinsters would be expected to seek the protections U.S. citizenship might afford. One might also remember that naturalization involved the payment of court fees. Without any tangible benefit resulting from a woman's naturalization, it is doubtful that many women or their husbands considered the fees to be money well spent.  And, here's a tidbit that is always of interest, especially when you run across this in your genealogy.  Prior to September 1922, if a woman born in the U.S. married a non-US. citizen, she would lose her citizenship and it would be re-granted when her husband's final papers for citizenship were approved.  Yes, it did happen -- the woman never left the U.S. but lost her citizenship when she married a foreigner.  Once women were given the right to vote, etc. the rules then changed.

Now, if I were looking for NATURALIZATION PAPERS IN SHAWANO COUNTY, where would I look? Here's the list and where the person filed, as well as what time frame, determines where the papers are located.  Here's the order I would start in (and have!):

  • UWGB Cofrin Library has BOXES of Declaration of Intention & Naturalization Papers for Shawano County -- definitely worth the visit or call Debbie.
    Area Research Center University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
    2420 Nicolet Drive
    Green Bay, WI 54311-7001 --  Debra Anderson 920-465-2539
  • Shawano FHC has an index to Shawano County Declaration of Intention & Naturalization Papers
  • NARA Chicago Archives has some of the papers AFTER 1906
    7358 South Pulaski Road
    Chicago, Illinois 60629-5898  E-mail:
  • The LDS Church has microfilmed the Shawano FHC Index of Shawano County Declaration of Intention & Naturalization Papers -- making it accessible to you from any Mormon FHC around the world (2200+ in all!)  Here are the microfilm numbers:
    FHL US/CAN # 1851862 Items 2-3   Extract of naturalization records, 1859-1929
    (Original records are found at the Area Research Center, University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. These extracts were filmed at the Appleton Family History Center, Shawano, Wisconsin.)
    "Intentions 1859-1907 - A-Z 
    Petitions 1907-1929 - A-Dordel, Gustav "
    FHL US/CAN # 1851863  Extract of naturalization records, 1859-1929
    "Petitions 1907-1929 - Dordel, Tillie Gast -Z "

Now, we've covered how to track down the CITIZENSHIP papers, let's talk about HOW and WHERE immigrants arrived to the U.S.  Here's where that census info will help you out again.  If you know approx. the year(s) and the ethnic origin of the immigrant, you can search in published indexes and ship manifests.  Let's start with the published first.  We'll use Germany as an example as most ancestors in Shawano County call Germany the Homeland.  The two major ports of EMIGRATION were Hamburg and Bremen in the late 1800's and early 1900's when the wave of immigrants came from Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, etc.  The Hamburg ship lists exist and are EXCELLENT -- unfortunately the Bremen ship manifests were lost during the War.  The Hamburg's (lists of passengers on vessels sailing from Hamburg between 1850 and 1934) have been microfilmed by the LDS church and are again available at your closest FHC to rent to view.  They are divided into 2 parts DIRECT and INDIRECT. 

  • Direct Lists, containing the names of those passengers on vessels that sailed from Hamburg directly to an overseas port. The lists, bound into volumes, extend from 1850 to 1914 and from 1920 to 1934; there was no emigration through Hamburg during World War I. The lists for 1850-1855 are not, properly speaking, "lists", but rather extracts from lists, arranged alphabetically by the first letter of the surname of the head of household, then chronologically by the date the vessel left Hamburg. From 1855, the lists are arranged chronologically by the date the vessel left Hamburg. The volume of extracts for January-June 1853 has been missing since at least the 1920s.
  • Indirect Lists, containing the names of those passengers who proceeded from Hamburg to an intermediate British or other European port, where they boarded other vessels for their ultimate destination. The lists extend from 1854-1910; the names of such passengers for 1850-1854 and from 1911 onwards are included in the Direct Lists.
  • The following RESOURCE HELP is available from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- Mormon Family History Center.  When I worked at the FHC, these were available for sale only -- now there is a FREE link for these at the website and the download is in PDF format -- WELL WORTH READING!!!!
    This guide describes how to use the Hamburg Passenger Lists. The Hamburg Passenger Lists contain the names of millions of Europeans who emigrated through Hamburg between 1850 and 1934 (except 1915-1919). The lists may provide important genealogical information, including hometowns of the emigrants.

There are also published book indexes for different ethnic origins.  

  • Germans to America (Filby, P. W. & Glazier covering 1850-1897) is a series of books (and now on CD-ROM) which index passenger arrival records of people from German lands for the years listed. Each volume contains a chronological listing of the passenger lists, followed by an alphabetical index of each passenger in that volume. There are approximately 70,000 names in each volume. The following information is generally given for each passenger: name, age and sex; and when given: occupation, country or province of origin, village of residence (many say "unknown"), and destination (many say "unknown" or simply "US"). Also listed is the name of the ship, date of arrival, and ports of departure and arrival.  You will find people who listed their country of residence as Germany, Prussia, Bavaria, or numerous other German states (like Hesse, Saxony, Brandenburg, etc). Passengers from Switzerland, France and Luxembourg are also sometimes included. You will generally not find passengers from Austria, Hungary or other nearby areas.  I found my LAEDTKE's listed in these -- larger libraries will have them -- they are a dark red with gold lettering -- they are also available on CD-ROM.  Despite errors and some omissions, Germans to America is still a good research tool for tracking down German immigrant ancestors. If a listing is found in Germans to America, then the original passenger lists should be consulted.  Once you have the ship name & date, you can go on to finding the actual ship manifest.
  • Wuerttemberg Emigration Index  6 volumes. 60,000 persons who made application to leave Germany from the late 18th century to 1900 at Wuerttemberg. Schenk, Trudy, Ruth Froelke and Inge Bork.
  • Irish - Famine Immigrants -- In October 1845 a serious blight began among the Irish potatoes, ruining about three-quarters of the country's crop.  By the end of 1854 nearly two million people - about a quarter of the population - had emigrated to the United States in ten years.  The Famine Immigrants; Ira A. Glazier and Michael Tepper, Lists of Irish Immigrants Arriving at the Port of New York, 1846-1851, (7 volumes: Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co, 1983-1986.
  • Italians to America
  • Russians to America
  • Dutch Immigrants to America
  • German Immigrants: Lists of Passengers Bound from Bremen to New York, [1847-1871], Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1987-1993. 4 vols. Zimmerman, Gary J. and Marion Wolfert.
  • Filby's Passenger and Immigration Lists Index; often referred to as ‘Filby's". This Index of Ship's Passengers consists of three massive volumes plus an additional 12+ volumes of indexes of ship passenger lists. The initial three volumes (broken down by alpha sections) list a massive number of passengers from various ship's lists with various destinations. This index was taken from many different sources and compiled alphabetically by surname. Subsequent to the initial 3 volumes additional supplements have been issued about 1 per year for about 13 years. Each supplement lists many more names alphabetically and the source of the information. The year of supplement has nothing to do with the date of passage. Many (maybe most) larger city main libraries have a complete set of Filby's. And it can often be obtained by inter-library loan
  • Some of the online subscription DATABASES such as have these books online for a fee.

That should help you locate the WHEN and HOW they emigrated -- let's move on to WHERE they arrived to.  I'll use a typical example of about 1906 --during the height of the immigration period.  People emigrated for several reasons -- lack of work, lack of religious freedom, and lack of a future in the Old Country.  This was very true of Germans also -- starting in the 1840's we find Germans immigrating to Wisconsin (Milwaukee-Kirchayn area) due to religious freedom.  Later, we see emigration due to wars and rumors of war -- about 1870's all able bodied males were required to serve in the military.  Should you decide not to serve when your number was called, your family could lose their home and property.  Property was not cheap and a German male was not considered a good catch unless he owned property -- family and friends wrote back from the States telling them that land was good, work was plentiful and Wisconsin's green fertile fields resembled Germany's.  People packed up and left -- sometimes just the father first and once he was established, would send for the oldest boys and then the younger children and wife.  Sometimes, as in my BLAESE family, the young couple and their older siblings and mother would make the trip together.  So if you find just part of the family on one list, keep looking as they will eventually show up later.  During the peak of immigration at Ellis Island in NYC, 30 ships a day would come in, all carrying people looking for a new home.  Most of our ancestors traveled in STEERAGE. There were first class and second class passengers and then there was steerage.  My grandmother-in-law told us of how she was 16 years old (you had to be 16 to travel alone so even the 15 year olds were 16 on paper!) and you were in the lower areas of the ship to sleep.  During the daytime, you would go upstairs to get fresh air and move about.  In her case, she brought her own food with -- and in earlier years, this was the common practice.  The length of time on ship varied -- once steamships were used, the travel time would be less than 2 weeks.  Most people had passage secured from their departing port in Europe to the arrival port in the Midwest prior to leaving Europe.  When the ships would arrive in NYC, the NY Times would print a list so that family waiting for passengers knew if their passenger arrived. 

Now, how do I locate the PORT OF ENTRY.  If you found your people in the ship list indexes or naturalization papers, you have the port and date.  The major ports on the East Coast were NYC, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston, etc. and in that order of popularity in the early 1900's.  The Ellis Island website offers ship passenger list indexes -- be sure to check VARIOUS spellings as this is the place name changes happened frequently.  Most immigrants did not speak the language and when you had 30 ships packed with people, the intake workers just pushed people through.  Hence, if someone's surname was SCHWARZ in German, it might be changed to BLACK in English... Schwarz is black in German.  Name variations were the norm so keep that in mind when you are searching for your families.  If you do not have the exact port and date, try Ellis Island first... Philadelphia second... just this has been my experience.

OK, you now have the PORT OF ENTRY and the SHIP NAME -- what next?  Now you are able to locate the original ship manifest and see your ancestor's name and whom he was traveling with -- and, you can locate a picture of the ship online or in a book called SHIPS OF OUR ANCESTORS.  Once you locate the manifest, if you have a passenger around 1900, it should say the place of origin and where he was traveling to -- people needed a sponsor to come into the States and here's where they would list the person they are coming to live with -- and how much $$ they were bringing into the country.  I looked at all of mine and saw they had merely a few dollars -- how did they plan on getting to the Midwest & Chicago on that and eat? Most immigrants downplayed the money issue tremendously.  Grandma had her funds sewed inside the lining of her coat and NOBODY knew how much was there -- these people had left persecution and they weren't taking any chances here!  Plus, being thrown into a steerage hold with 400 of your new best friends for 10 days could put you on edge, too -- I couldn't imagine my kids at 16 being able to do all that these young immigrants did when they were 16.  My son traveled through Grand Central Station in NYC when he was 18 and I sat on pins and needles until he called me every hour on the hour... These immigrants would write a letter back home once they got settled here in the States... and that could be weeks or months.

Back to the manifest -- once you have the town name and country, you can then start looking there for church records.  Some of these town names are so poorly written you might spend sometime checking out each letter of the name to make sure there is such a town.  If you are looking for German towns, keep in mind that some have new names after WWII -- especially the Pommern area that became parts of Poland and Russia and now all Poland today... your journey has just started to find the records on the other side of the pond... Just remember you always start with the last and work backward.  Look for the death /marriage date before trying to locate the baptism.  And just keep repeating the process in the next generation back.

I hope this page has been useful to you -- it isn't even a drop in the bucket on Immigration/Naturalization but it is a start.  Now, if you have QUESTIONS, just email them to me and I'll post them in the bottom section here and we'll get them answered to the best of our ability.  AND, as I told my classes as they were quiet in the QUESTION - ANSWER portion of the class, the only dumb question is the one that didn't get asked.  People started to speak up quickly and the questions they had were questions other people had, too and THEY WERE GREAT QUESTIONS!!!! So do ask!!!

QUESTION #1:  Does the courthouse in Shawano house any Naturalization Records that were processed there years ago?
Good question - years ago they did keep them in the Clerk of Court's Office but have since transferred ALL of them to the Cofrin Library at UWGB.

UWGB Cofrin Library has BOXES of Declaration of Intention & Naturalization Papers for Shawano County -- definitely worth the visit or call Debbie.
Area Research Center University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
2420 Nicolet Drive
Green Bay, WI 54311-7001 --  Debra Anderson 920-465-2539


Some of my favorite links: